Unemployment in Maryland rose slightly, to 6.4 percent, i January, according to figures released by the state yesterday, but economists said the bad news hadn't dimmed their expectations for an imminent rebound.
"We are still concerned about the loss of jobs as Maryland's economy continues to restructure," said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED).
But he noted that other statistics, such as new claims for unemployment insurance benefits and applications for housing permits, were improving.
While DEED said the number of employed Marylanders dropped significantly between December and January -- by 2.5 percent, or 44,958 -- the unemployment rate inched up only one-tenth of a percentage point because the number of people who said they were looking for work in January dropped by almost as much. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.
And though the number of jobs in Baltimore fell by about 6,500, the unemployment rate improved nearly half a percentage point, to 9.2 percent, because of a larger decline in the number of people seeking work.
Throughout the rest of the state, the picture was mixed, as the county with the highest unemployment -- Worcester, on the Eastern Shore -- saw its jobless rate rise to 18.8 percent from December's 17.1 percent.
At the same time, Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties all saw declines in their already low unemployment rates.
Overall, the state continued to fare better than the nation, but the U.S. jobless rate has dropped for the last two months. Last week the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the nation's jobless rate fell to 7 percent in February, after falling to 7.1 percent in January from 7.3 percent in December. Maryland's unemployment statistics lag the nation's by about a month.
Economists said that despite the disappearance of jobs in January -- many of which were seasonal and expected to end after Christmas -- Maryland's economy would improve.
For example, a University of Baltimore analysis of leading economic indexes for the state was the most positive it has been in years.
The author, economist Michael Conte, said the other signs were so positive, such as an improvement in help-wanted advertising, that he expected hiring to start picking up by next month.
"I'm expecting a good second quarter [which begins April 1] and a good summer," he said.
And DRI/McGraw Hill, a private economic forecasting company in Massachusetts, which recalculated its forecast for Maryland's economy this month, predicted that Maryland would end the year with 23,000 more jobs than it had in January.
Cliff Milligan, economist for DRI, said that while Maryland's economy did not suffer as much as other states, it was not likely to rebound as strongly as other areas because of its reliance on government jobs.